Juhi Sharma is fascinated by the way light is used in film. She wants to create meaningful films for children, to offset the overwhelmingly mindless and often stereotype-ridden, sexist media that she found that children of today consume. When she got accepted for a Master’s in Film Direction at The Brooklyn Institute in New York to follow her dream; she decided to try her hand at crowdfunding her education.

“I was super nervous about crowdfunding, but I read about other people that had crowdfunded their educations and I thought I would give it a shot, once I saw all my other options dwindling.”

As mentioned in this report by The News Minute, Juhi is currently the only earning member in her family.

“The business that my mother was running failed, following which my parents split. My father is currently unemployed as well. We are already paying off a personal loan we took after mortgaging our home. The money was used for the business but it didn’t work out,” says Juhi.

Juhi had managed to save about Rs 3 lakh, but all of her savings were spent in the past year. “We discovered that my 15-year-old sister was diabetic. She had to be pulled out of a regular school and put into an open institution. It is a great place for her, but the fee was over Rs 2.5 lakh and I had to foot the bill,” she says.

Juhi had applied for loans and scholarships in India, but received none. “Filmmaking is not considered lucrative. No matter how much money people spend on watching films, banks do not think that this is a career option worth funding. And as for scholarships, there are only about four scholarships in all of India for anyone pursuing a degree in the arts, overall. That’s a minuscule number of scholarships given the number of people studying the fine arts in all its forms.”

So she put out a call on her personal Facebook profile, urging her friends and family and anyone that wanted to help her achieve her dreams, to contribute in any way that they could, to her crowdfunding campaign.

And then came the trolls.

It started when someone forwarded Juhi a screenshot of a tweet where someone was ridiculing a woman for crowdfunding her education. “It wasn’t until I looked at the second screenshot that I realized that the woman they were ridiculing was me.”

Someone had taken her appeal from Facebook, where she had put out the call, and pasted it on Twitter, with the express purpose of ridiculing her. “When I saw the tweets, I just went cold. I was numb. I wasn’t even on Twitter, but somehow my crowdfunding link had been put on Twitter; and there were just all these people sitting behind their screens and spewing hate,” said Juhi. “I wasn’t forcing anyone to donate, so why was I being subjected to all this?”

As is the case for all women on the internet, this ridicule did not confine itself to the subject at hand, but of course, fell back on her gender.

“If a man was trying to crowd fund, and if there were naysayers who didn’t agree with the idea of crowdfunding, they would never call him out for being a man. So why is my being a woman got anything to do with it? Why should my gender be used against me?” asked Juhi. “I expected to be trolled, I expected for people to have an issue with crowdfunding, but what i didn’t expect was name-calling – bitch, slut, whore, prostitute, beggar.”

The abusive messages and tweets told her that trying to crowdfund her education was akin to sex work, and how that would be a quicker way to earn the money that she needed. Of course, sex work is seen as the most degrading profession to insult one with, and these abusive messages not only attack the person in question, but sex workers as well.

What is it about a woman trying to follow her dream so offensive to some people? There was even an account who claimed to know Juhi, and testified to her privileged background, which then became further proof for trolls to attack her for being a “rich, spoilt bitch” who was probably using this money to go drinking in Bombay.

Online spaces are deeply unwelcoming of women. Women are abused on Twitter for voicing their opinions, they are attacked on Facebook for expressing themselves, they are harassed on dating sites for trying to find love, and Juhi’s story is unfortunately part of this same, dangerous phenomenon of cyber violence against women.

Also Read: #DigitalHifazat – FII’s Campaign To Combat Cyber Violence Against Women In India

“For three days, I was in a really bad place. I was wracked with self-doubt, about whether I should have put out this crowdfunding appeal at all. But with support from my friends and my family, I got through it. They made me realize that I hadn’t forced anyone to give me money. If they believed in my talent and my dream, then they could donate. If they didn’t want to, they were perfectly within their rights to ignore my appeal.”

With Juhi’s recent virality though, there has been a light at the end of her tunnel. Not only has she almost reached her crowdfunding goal (which however, is only a fifth of her total expense for this degree and will only sustain her for the first four months), but she has also received countless messages of support. “There have been people reaching out to me and telling them that my crowdfunding attempt has inspired them to look for alternate ways to fund their own education,” says Juhi, who is overwhelmed by the sudden attention.

Juhi’s dream is to make feminist cinema for children, after working on a project on children and storytelling where she met a little girl who told her she wasn’t supposed to watch Spiderman and Batman because only boys watch those shows, and the only shows she watched were Barbie and other princess movies. “I want to bring interesting stories to children – stories with a message as simple as, boys and girls are equal. I want to make films where children aren’t constrained by gender roles and stereotypes.”

Comic by Neha Yadav (@nay_yeah) via The Ladies Finger

Here’s to more women following their dreams, and here’s to a future where they aren’t attacked for trying to make those dreams happen! You can find Juhi’s crowdfunding link here.

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